News - March 21, 2019

‘I explained problems to my fish first’


When their supervisors are busy, PhD students can feel quite alone. Uma Khumairoh, from Indonesia, discovered it could help to talk to your pets – who she promptly named after her supervisors.

Uma Khumairoh graduated with a PhD on 5 March for her study of complex rice systems as a means of increasing and stabilizing productivity.

Proposition: ‘Naming objects or pets after supervisors helps PhD students feel guided at all times’

‘When you do a PhD overseas, you are not just far away from all your friends and family, but you also have to adapt to a new environment. The culture and ways of communicating are different, and there is also often some kind of language barrier. This combination can make you feel alone and misunderstood. Especially if your supervisors are very busy and most of your contact with them is by email.

At the start of my PhD research, I expressed my feelings about this in my emails to my supervisors, but because of the language barrier, I often couldn’t find the right tone or words. Little things can become very big when you get the communication wrong, which caused difficulties in the contact with my supervisors.

I discovered that I could distance myself a bit from the situation by first talking to an animal or an object. That helped me to see what role I could play myself. And once the first emotion is gone, you can take time to think quietly about exactly what you want to express.

It also helped me to put my thoughts in order when I came up against a problem. If my supervisors were busy, I explained the problem to my fish first. As I was talking I would often come up with a solution myself. This meant I didn’t have to talk to my real supervisors as often. What’s more: if you name your pets after your supervisors, there is no need to be jealous of colleagues who have weekly consultations with their supervisors. Suddenly, I was talking to my supervisors every day!’